Traditionally Wild animals from foreign lands have been brought into another country only to keep them in zoos (ex-situ Conservation areas) not to let them range free in National parks and Sanctuaries (the in-situ Conservation areas). Now the ‘introduction’ of African Cheetah in Kuno National Park has blurred the line between Ex-situ and in-situ conservation, challenging the age-old principles of conservation biology. The distinction between serious conservation efforts and popular soap operas and tourism promotion is also being obliterated like the dismantling of the Berlin wall. The world has changed – for better or worse – only time would tell. All the best to everyone.
Translocation of a species outside its indigenous range (Introduction) wherever attempted in the past (long ago) resulted in myriad problems – overabundance and resultant depletion of the resources for indigenous spp. (“sp” is an abbreviation for species. “spp” is plural form), and disease to both local wild animals and human beings. (1859 – European rabbits were introduced to Australia, for recreational hunting by the rich settlers, soon they proliferated and became pests that required rabbit control measures. 1872 -introduction of Indian mongoose into the Caribbean to control introduced rats destroyed poultry and resulted in incidences of rabies. In the case of the introduced African cheetah, the risk of disease is high; it may affect the introduced population or the indigenous animals.
Now newspapers are telling us that according to some Madhya Pradesh Wildlife officials, in the next step after the Cheetah introduction, the national parks and sanctuaries may introduce zebras, giraffes, and hippos. If this ever happens, Wildlife Conservation will take a back seat, and tourism jamboree will be the order of the day in coming years.
The introduction of the African cheetah is being called by the proponents –‘reintroduction’ to mislead the public and the decision-makers. This practice will open up a floodgate of the undesirable introductions of many non-indigenous spp from Africa.
Reintroductions are capable of restoring ecosystems but introductions are counterproductive and detrimental. In the case of a carnivore, such drastic intervention would have been necessary if there were no other indigenous species of predator capable of filling in the vacant niche. We have tigers, leopards, wild dogs, and wolves capable of doing the job in most of the protected areas. Then what was the necessity to introduce a species that has evolved in entirely different ecological conditions?
Conservation is turning into show business. Millions of rupees will be wasted on an exotic species on the pretext that such an initiative will save the grassland ecosystems. I would urge the scientists involved in writing this project to kindly explain how introducing African cheetahs into a few PAs (protected areas with anthropogenic small grasslands) would achieve restoration of the grassland ecosystem. They should also explain why conserving Great Indian Bustard, Lesser Florican and Wolves cannot achieve the revival of grasslands.
Madhya Pradesh has lost most of its natural grassland ecosystems that exist outside the protected areas to encroachments and extreme biotic pressures, some vestige of those grasslands can be seen in the West and Northwest Madhya Pradesh. I urge the proponents to explain how the introduced Cheetahs in Kuno National Park or Nauradehi Wildlife Division would save the Grasslands (Beeds) of Mandsaur, Jhabua, and Dhar.
It is common knowledge that India has myriad conservation issues and an array of species that need immediate intervention to save them from extinction. Wildlife conflict management and control of local and international trade in wildlife need enormous resources to be effective but we have no money for that.
Let us ask ourselves, have we done enough for species such as wolf, lesser florican, great Indian bustard (GIB), caracal, hispid hare, Gangetic dolphins, and several others? Can we afford the luxury of introducing an exotic species for which the selected habitat seems inadequate considering their long-term survival?
In its judgment of 2020, the Supreme Court had agreed only for an experimental ‘introduction’ of African cheetah in suitable habitat, not for a full-fledged project in Kuno National Park. Kuno was completely ruled out for African Cheetah introduction by the Supreme court in its earlier order of 2013. The court has ordered that Lions from Gir must be relocated to Kuno within six months and that no exotic cheetah should be introduced in Kuno.
The media buzz around the transportation and release of African cheetah has shaken the earth as if something of great conservation importance is happening in the country. Our own Asiatic lion, for which Kuno was prepared painstakingly by us after meticulously relocating and rehabilitating about 1600 families of 24 villages of Saharia people, will perhaps never receive lions from Gir as now with the Cheetah project already in Kuno one will have to wait for the next 15-20 years for it to conclude. I am worried that the next step might be to bring in some lions and several ungulate spp from Africa. That will be the saddest day for conservation and a betrayal of the sacrifices people have made for our parks and sanctuaries.
The author, Suhas Kumar, who retired as Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, has spent almost 25 years managing, supervising, and guiding the management and training of officers and staff of national parks, sanctuaries, and tiger reserves of Madhya Pradesh. He is a trained wildlife manager, a law graduate, and holds a Ph.D. in Environment and Ecology discipline in the field of ecotourism in protected areas. He has also acquired some knowledge and training in nature interpretation and ecotourism from the US, the UK, and Australia. He is a member of WWF-India’s State Advisory Board for Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and the Governing Body and Governing Council of National Centre for Human Settlement and Environment, Bhopal. He is also a member of the Delhi Biodiversity Society. Earlier, he had served as the chairman of the Research Advisory Committee of the M.P. State Biodiversity Development Board and member of Madhya Pradesh State Board for Wildlife for two terms. He was the chairman of one of the evaluation teams constituted by NTCA in 2017-18 for 13 tiger reserves of the country.
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